martes, 4 de noviembre de 2008

Predicting the Web (V) - Conclusion

These texts previously analyzed seem to be very different in principle: they come from different authors, different countries, different theorical disciplines (engineering, philosophy, literature). But when we get to analyze them, we find COMMON IDEAS:

- their main purpose is to achieve a metacoprehension of human world

- they become a challenge to common and assumed ideas from the Enlightenment, such as: the romantic idea of the author, closed and hierarchical structures, linear-based reading and writing...

- they predict many of the ideas in which the Internet and the WWW is actually based on when it was conceived by the beginnings of the 1990s.

That's why I think these texts are important. They seem to be apart in terms of history, but they are close in terms of content. They actually refer to technologies we use everyday.

- the web has a rhizomatic structure: it is very easy to get lost and to find information of any kind, but we can enjoy the multiples paths we may follow to get it. The structure may be chaotic, but: when we search for information, we can broke the rhizome at anytime, and the hyperlinks provide connection and heterogeneity to the information.

- in order to acummulate and reduce the space of Knowledge, Wikipedia might be considered the most similar type of enclyclopedia as Bush's original project (with some differences).

- we may think about the Internet and the web as Borges conceived his maze: while we surf the Web, we have to think in terms of “temporary forking” rather than “spatial movement”. The Internet is everywhere and it's nowhere at the same time.

Predicting the Web (IV) - The Rhizome

The Rhizome is a text is written by french philosophers Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, as a part of their Capitalism and Schizophrenia project, which they developed durting the 1970s. The text I'm analyzing is not the whole text, but only a 7 pages extract where they summarize the main principles of the rhizome. In comparison with the other two, this text have a philosophical perspective (they take the concept of RHIZOME from the biology, and apply it to develope a philosophical construction).

The authors used the term "rhizome" to describe a kind of theory and research that allows for multiple, non-hierarchical entry and exit points in data representation and interpretation. They make an opposition between:
- an arborescent model of knowledge: that makes vertical and linear connections
- a rhizome model of knowledge: works with horizontal and trans-species connections And then, they ennumerate the following principles of the rhizome:

Connection and heterogeneity: any point of a rhizome can be connected to anything other, and must be. So the most important thing in a rhizome is that everything has to be connected (semiotic chains, organizations of power, and circumstances relative to the arts, sciences, and social struggles). And on the other hand, we don't have an ideal listener-speaker, nor a universal language: a rhizome always reflects "an essentially heterogeneous reality".

Multiplicity: In a rhizome we don't have a unity to serve as a pivot in an object or to divide in the subject. There are no objects and subjects, only determinations, magnitudes and dimensions that increase in number and change in nature at the same time.

Asignfying rupture: A rhizome may be broken anytime and it will start up again on one of its old lines, or on new lines. And these lines always tie back to one another. “It is detachable, reversible, susceptible to constant modification. It can be torn, reversed, adapted to any kind of mounting, reworked by an individual, group or social formation.

Cartography: a rhizome does not have any structural or generative model. They describe the rhizome like an open and connectable map in all of its dimensions: “a rhizome is not amenable to any structural or generative model. It is a stranger to any idea of genetic axis or deep structure”.

Predicting the Web (III) - The Garden of Forking Paths

This text was written in 1941 by Argentinian writer and poet Jorge Luis Borges. It was an orginally Spanish short story, that he included in a short-stories collection entitled “Fictions”. We find a different approach with this text because it's literature, and I think it's quite to see how we can relate this text to the other one.

Just to briefly summarize the plot of the story, the protagonist is Dr. Yu Tsun, a chinese spy working for the Germans during World War II. He's been discovered and is being pursued. Through the narration, we find out Yu Tsun is Ts'ui Pen great-grandson, a great smart man who renounced his job as governor of a province to undertake two tasks: “to write a vast and intricate novel, and to construct an equally vast and intricate labyrinth”. The protagonist goes to Dr Albert house, who explains excitedly that at one stroke he has solved THE MYSTERY: the chaotic and jumbled nature of Ts'ui Pen's unfinished book, and the mystery of his lost labyrinth. Albert's solution is that they are one and the same: we all first think that book and labyrinth were different things, but the truth is that the book is the labyrinth.

So here we have the text's metaphor: the same way we have to choose among several possibilities when we find ourselves in the middle of a maze, we also have this ability to choose when we read a book.

In all fictional works, each time a man is confronted with several alternatives, he chooses one and eliminates the others; in the fiction of Ts'ui Pên, he chooses -simultaneously- all of them. He creates, in this way, diverse futures, diverse times which themselves also proliferate and fork”

How can we think that may be possible? Well, the answer is that the forking took place in time, and not in space.

In contrast to Newton and Schopenhauer, your ancestor did not believe in a uniform, absolute time. He believed in an infinite series of times, in a growing, dizzying net of divergent, convergent and parallel times. This network of times which approached one another, forked, broke off, or were unaware of one another for centuries, embraces all possibilities of time”

We finally find out that the main purpose of the novel was to describe a world where all possible outcomes of an event occur at the same time, each one itself leading to further possibilities (using the metaphor of the forking paths in a maze).

Here we have a metalinguistics narration, as long as it is a novel that talks about a novel (we find a mixture of 2 stories in one); the novel itself has the same chaotic structure that labyrinths actually have; and the maze is a metaphor to mean the idea of choice and simultaneous possibilities. Through the links between the different paths we can create as much interpretations as we want.

I think the importance of this text lie in 2 main reasons:

- this text is considered a conceptual precedent of the hyperfiction stories: the stories that combine hypertext and literature, and play with the ideas of chocie, multiple paths, different meanings, no beginning and no ending...

- french philosopher Gilles Deleuze takes this story to develop the concept of RHIZOME

Predicting the Web (II) - As We May Think

The profound technological and engineering perspective this text has is remarkable in as long as science administrator Vannevar Bush, wanted to provoke a shift in scientific efforts from physical abilities regarding science information to more accessible collection of human knowledge (using the technology available at that time). The date of firs publication is important, since we have to situate this text in the last months of World War II.

The whole text is devoted to explain how this change may be possible, and thus summarizes his ideas with the development of his own system: the MEMEX (an acronym for Memory Extender). It was basically an electromechanical device that could be used to read, search for and add information, as well as to follow links/notes that the user (and others) may possibly produce. In other words, he was proposing a proto-hypertext computer system.

In his visionary project, the ability to connect, annotate and share published works and personal trails would change the process by which the “world's record” is created and used. That makes us to come back to the idea of accessing and retrieving information (Bush found this idea very important, since the main problem in our “information society” is not so much the quantity/quality of information and knowledge as the access to this information. He argues that we can literally get lost in a bunch of information in case of, for instance, scientific research. Therefore, his Memex proposal should allow an easy and more comfortable access to and retrieve of the information.

In addition to that, Bush though the Memex should work through an association of ideas. Whereas data storage in alphabetical/numercial order assumes the information to be in only one place and forces the searcher to follow a track operating through class and subclass (the best example of that is a regular library), the Memex system should work through an association of ideas. “Our mind jumps instantly to the information below. This jump is suggested by an association of ideas, followeing some intricate web of roads formed by cells in the brain”, Bush notes. That way Memex would emulate human brains operating forms.

Just to make all this a bit more concrete, this is how his prototypical Memex should look like. Although it looks really old-fashioned and kind of non-operative for our current standards, that didn't really matter because this project was never eventually executed as the whole investigation falled apart.

Why is this text so important? I think the time when it was written makes it really visionary. The author predicted many kinds of technology invented after the publication of the text (such as Hypertext, the Personal Computer, the Internet or the WWW). To show you an example of that, I think this definition (quoted from the text):
“The Enclyclopedia Britannica could be reduced to the volume of a matchbox. A library of a million volumes could be compressed into one end of a desk".
could be a good definition of what Wikipedia is right know (some differences may be acknowledged).

Anyways, the main contributions of this text are remarkable:

- terms and notions that after became popular: link, connection, web
- a change in our reading and writing order, as well as appearance of the WREADER category (mixture of writer and reader)
- intuiton of virtual textuality (the information did not need to be stored in paper)
- information stored in path-based systems

Predicting the Web (I)

AS WE MAY THINK (by American engineer VANNEVAR BUSH)

THE GARDEN OF FORKING PATHS (by Argentinian writer and poet JORGE LUIS BORGES)

THE RHIZOME (by french philosophers DELEUZE & GUATTARI)

Although these three texts seem to be very different and talk about different ideas, from different perspectives, they actually have many things in common. They all have contributed in many aspects to build what The Internet and the World Wide Web is right now. Moreover, I personally find they have also had a significant influence in the connection between Arts and Technology.

In the next following posts, I'm going to analyze each text separately so we can extract some final conclusions.